Five Strands of Evidence for Jesus Christ’s Resurrection

Excerpted from “If Christ Has Not Been Raised: Reasoning through the Resurrection

Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead three days after His execution pumps the heart of the Christian gospel (doctrine) and is Christianity’s central supporting fact (apologetics). The truth of Christianity uniquely stands or falls on Christ’s resurrection. Because of this, the New Testament accounts of Christ’s resurrection warrant careful analysis and reflection.

The writers of these accounts not only report the Resurrection as a factual event but also provide a theological context for and explanation of its overall significance to God’s historical redemptive plan. Christian apologists through the centuries have appealed to five basic strands of evidence as support for the historical and factual nature of the resurrection of Jesus. 1

The Empty Tomb

One of the most fully substantiated facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection is the empty tomb. Most New Testament scholars, even some liberal scholars, agree that solid historical fact stands behind the gospel claim that witnesses found Jesus’ tomb empty on that first Easter morning. Far from being a myth or legend, the report of the empty tomb has a very early date, fits well with what is known of the times archaeologically (concerning burial customs and tombs), and was never challenged, let alone refuted, by the contemporary enemies and critics of Christianity.

If the Jews or Romans had produced the body of Jesus, Christianity would have been disproved immediately. Therefore, the disciples could not have proclaimed a bodily resurrection unless Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty. In ancient Judaism, the concept of resurrection was considered only bodily in nature, not spiritual. The empty tomb requires an adequate explanation. For 2,000 years, Christians have argued that the only consistent explanation for the empty tomb is Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ Post-crucifixion Appearances

As mentioned above, it was recorded that numerous people had intimate, empirical encounters with Jesus Christ after His death on the cross. A variety of people interacted with Him at various times and places. Witnesses of the Resurrection claimed to have seen, heard, and touched the resurrected Christ. The same person whom they saw executed three days before was now alive and in their midst. These “in time and in space” physical appearances were reported soon after the actual encounter and cannot reasonably be dismissed as mythical or psychological in nature.

The Apostles’ Transformation

The Book of Acts describes a dramatic and enduring transformation of eleven men from terrified, defeated cowards after Jesus’ crucifixion (as revealed in the Gospels) into courageous preachers and, eventually, martyrs. These men became bold enough to stand against the hostile Jews and Romans in the face of torture and death. Such radical and extensive change deserves an adequate explanation, for human character and conduct do not transform easily or often.

Considering that the apostles fled and even denied knowing Jesus following His initial arrest makes their courage in the face of persecution and execution even more astounding. The apostles attributed the strength of their newfound character to their direct personal encounter with the resurrected Christ. In Christ’s resurrection, the apostles found their unshakable reason to live and die.

Emergence of the Christian Church

What specifically caused the historical emergence of the Christian church? Amazingly, within 400 years Christianity dominated the entire Roman Empire and, over the course of two millennia, the entire Western civilization. Christianity developed a distinct cultural and theological identity apart from traditional Judaism in a short period of time. According to the New Testament, the unique Christian faith came into being directly because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, the apostles “turned the world upside down” with the truth of the Resurrection, and the extraordinary, enduring Christian church emerged.

Sunday as a Day of Worship

The Jews worshiped on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). However, the early Christian church gradually changed the day of their worship from the seventh day of the week to the first (Sunday: “the Lord’s Day,” Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).2 For the early Christian church, Sunday commemorated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His being raised to eternal life transformed worship and distinguished the Christian faith from traditional Judaism. Apart from the Resurrection, no reason existed for early followers of Jesus to view Sunday as having any enduring theological or ceremonial significance.

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  1. For apologetic evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, as well as a critique of alternative naturalistic theories, see William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1988); Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 255–98; Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1989); Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992); J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 159–83; Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), 175–98.
  1. Sabbatarians, of course, dispute this claim, but it is a reasonable inference from Scripture; see D. A. Carson, ed., From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).

  One thought on “Five Strands of Evidence for Jesus Christ’s Resurrection

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  2. Ryan Anderson
    April 4, 2012 at 5:54 am

    Ken; you say that the Jews or Romans could have produced the body of Jesus to immediately disprove Christianity and this is probably true.  But doesn’t Acts tell us that the disciples did not publically proclaim a bodily resurrection until Pentecost?   This indicates that the Jews or Romans wouldn’t have even know they would have needed to produce a body until it was too late, given that a 50 day old corpse would not really have proved anything.

    • April 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Hi Ryan,
      I’m one of Ken’s editors. He asked me to pass this response along to you (his computer is having trouble with WordPress at the moment).

      “Jewish and Roman officials knew about the claims of Jesus long before the resurrection was publicly proclaimed by the apostles. Regardless, in my opinion a 50 day old rotting corpse of Jesus would still have put an end to Christianity.”

  3. Ryan Anderson
    April 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

    “Jewish and Roman officials knew about the claims of Jesus long before the resurrection was publicly proclaimed by the apostles.

    There’s evidence for this?

  4. May 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    This is about the above article titled “Five strands of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.Where is the evidence i don’t see any?The empty tomb is no evidence first you need a body to go in the tomb or else it’s already empty.So then you need to prove that Jesus Christ ever lived as a flesh and blood person?Not a single historian or philosopher contemporary with Jesus supposed time knows one thing about a miracle worker,crucified and resurrected from the dead Jesus.
    Now considering your claim of post resurrection appearances,what good is that claim the writers of the 4 gospels are anonymous writers,no one,ZERO knows who wrote the 4 gospels,no one whoever the writers were claims they themselves were eyewitnesses to the crucifixtion or resurrection,they only claim to have heard the tale from someone un-named who were eyewitnesses,in other words heresay.The women who supposedly came to the tomb.or the 12 desciples plus Jesus is in no recorded history.The 4 gospels are not historical documents they are religious works.So there is no historical person to base post resurrection claims on.
    Now the apostles transformation that you claim,how could that claim be proved when none of them are in any history except religious works claimed history?Would religions lie?Do you believe in the Muslim god,Hindu god or any other religious god except the Bible god?That means you think them liars so why believe your religious Bible god?The apostles didn’t turn the world upside down or they would be in history.
    Sunday worship originated because Constantine changed and authorized the day of worship,Acts 20:7does not authorize Sunday worship it planly says they got together to break bread,in other words to eat not for a worship,yes Paul was windy and talked a long time but that scripture does not authorize Sunday worship.Neither does 1 Cor.16:1-3 authorize Sunday worship,read that carefully what Paul says is to lay by(storeing)gathering vegetables so he could pick them up and take them to the hungry in Jerusalem.Actually he is telling them to work gather the vegetables on the first day of the week(Sunday).This was not a Sunday worship get together.Neither does the belief that Jesus arose on Sunday morning authorize Sunday worship,in the first place you don’t know when he supposedly arose from the dead,he was just not there when the women got to the tomb,he wasn’t there.Beside that there is no command or saying in the N.T.for you to worship on the day he supposedly arose.You worship on Sunday because Constantine said worship on that day and he was trying to appease the pagans.Actually there is not one iota of reliable proof that the miracle worker,crucified and resurrected Jesus ever walked on this earth.At least try and put out something with proof and evidence,but i also realize you have none.
    Without malice,just real truth,
    Jay Osborne

  5. July 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Dear Jay:

    With all due respect, your objections don’t hold water.

    #1. “The empty tomb is no evidence.”


    The exact location of Jesus’ tomb was known by all interested parties (Christians, Jews, and Romans) following his burial. If Jesus’ enemies could have produced the dead body Christianity would be refuted. The missing body of Jesus is consistent with the multiple appearances of Jesus to such skeptics as Saul, James, and Thomas.

    #2 “Not a single historian or philosopher” knows anything about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


    The collective testimony of the following first and second century scholars concerning Jesus is consistent with what is written in the Gospels: see Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Jewish Talmud, Toledoth Jesu, Lucian, Thallus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Phlegon

    #3 “No one, ZERO, knows who wrote the 4 Gospels.”


    Ancient church history testifies that the four Gospels were indeed written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses concerning Jesus). And they were much closer to the event than are modern contemporary scholars who make wild and dismissive claims.

    #4 No Sunday worship.


    According to the New Testament, Sunday commemorated Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10).

    I hope you’ll continue pursuing the truth but I would like to encourage you to work harder at getting your facts straight.

    See my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions for more details.

    Jesus is Lord! (Romans 10:9).

  6. December 3, 2016 at 4:48 am

    Love the way you answered Jay Osborne. Christ Jesus is Lord!

    • December 3, 2016 at 9:21 am

      Thanks, Collins.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

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